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01 Nov 2016

The Healing Powers of Music: The Annual Concert for Autism Is Back for Two Nights at the Tack Room Tavern

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Blasting Echo Blasting Echo Cory Courtney

Eight years ago, Josh Heinz and his wife, Linda Lemke Heinz, started the Concert for Autism. In the years since, the concert has grown to become one of the most anticipated charity music events of the year.

The Ninth Annual Concert for Autism will take place on Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Tack Room Tavern in Indio. The Hellions, The Flusters, Machin’, House of Broken Promises and many, many others are scheduled to perform during the two-night event.

The couple is well-known in the local music scene thanks to their work in Blasting Echo and 5th Town. They’re also the parents of autistic children; in fact, that common thread in their lives led to them meeting each other. During a recent interview, Heinz discussed the many challenges that he and his wife face on a daily basis.

“The tough thing is that Linda’s son, Christopher, who is 14, he can have severe meltdowns,” Heinz said. “If you try to redirect him if he’s doing something he shouldn’t be doing … he can literally melt down, and sometimes break things, sometimes get violent—and the struggle for us is to prevent that from happening. Currently, he’s on a medical regimen, and he’s actually doing better over the past couple of months, but it’s never a guarantee. Every day, you wake up and hope he’s in a good mood. Last year, he didn’t finish the last three weeks (of school), and we were afraid he wouldn’t even go to high school this year, given it was his first year of high school. So far, he’s been good, but there was a day he had a big meltdown, and we had to go get him out of school.

“When he’s had meltdowns, he has thrown chairs, and you worry he’ll throw the TV from off the wall. It’s fear, and it’s sadness—particularly for Linda, because that’s her son. My son, who doesn’t live with us, is two years older. He used to be violent, but nowhere near what Christopher is.”

Josh works full-time. However, Linda needs to be on call with the school on a daily basis.

“In Linda’s case, she can’t hold a real job,” Josh said. “She teaches piano and voice lessons from home and has done that for a long time. She’s had to cancel lessons. She used to have 20 students she’d teach through the week; now it’s way down from that, probably around 12. There’s that loss of income.”

Having children with autism also leads to financial challenges beyond that loss of work income.

“Christopher is still under his dad’s insurance, but we still have to pay for the medications,” Josh said. “He is also a teenage boy; he eats a lot. The other day, he literally ate six bananas in 30 minutes. He doesn’t like to eat most fruits and vegetables; he wants sugar and carbs. We’ve started to hide food and only put out a little bit at a time, because he’ll go through it.

“When Schmidy’s (Tavern) closed, (owner) Dennis Ford had a deep freeze and said, ‘I bought this a couple of years ago; I’ll sell it to you for next to nothing.’ We have it in the garage, and we’re able to lock it up. We’ll buy a box of taquitos, and Christopher will literally eat most of the box—and he’ll eat them frozen. He’ll eat a whole box of frozen waffles in one sitting. But if you try to correct him, he’ll melt down. With his condition, he eats more than a normal 14-year-old boy.”

Josh and Linda need to plan their performance schedules accordingly, too.

“You can’t just hire a regular baby sitter to baby-sit with an autistic kid,” Josh explained. “Christopher typically goes to bed around 8 or 9. He gets his nighttime medications, calms down and goes to sleep. Our son Jack can’t be alone with Christopher, because Christopher used to pick on his sisters when they were smaller. The autism heightens that, and he’ll try to pick on Jack. Our older daughters can watch Jack when we play, but Christopher is 14 and a big kid, and Jack is little, and picking on Jack could be dangerous. If we play a show when Christopher is going to be awake, at something like 7:30 p.m., we have to have an adult there who knows him, or knows about autism. Say 5th Town has a show, and our set is at 9. We need to be there at 8:30, and that’s (Christopher’s bedtime) window, and the meds don’t always make him go to sleep. So we have a respite worker. We have respite hours from the state, and (the worker) will come in around 7:30.”

The musical careers of Blasting Echo and 5th Town have had a positive effect on the family, especially when one of the bands practices at their home.

“We love making music, and our outlet is our way to deal with how we feel,” Josh said. “Jack loves it and will sing along in his room. Sometimes, Christopher will come out and wander around. Sometimes he’ll bounce around in excitement, and it’s a good thing. Overall, the music is a calming thing.”

Earlier this year, Lumpy’s local golf stores closed their doors for good—but the Lumpy’s Foundation for Autism is still going strong.

“Before I worked with Lumpy’s, I donated money to the Coachella Valley Autism Society. When my son was diagnosed, my now-ex-wife and I didn’t know what to do,” Josh said. “I found out about the society a couple of years later, and that’s where I met Linda. That’s where a lot of parents need to go when their children are diagnosed with autism. If you go there, you meet a lot of other parents, and you hear what might work or might not work, the services you might be able to get, and things like that.

Josh explained why the funds from the annual Concert for Autism goes to Lumpy’s Foundation.

“Linda had a grant from Lumpy’s, and while Lumpy’s is closed, the foundation is still going to stay open. The owner has a son with autism, and (the son) plays piano; Linda taught him. … The National Autism Society (with which the Coachella Valley Autism Society is affiliated) came back to us and said, ‘All fundraising events have to be sanctioned by the National Autism Society.’ They gave me the money back, and I said, ‘I’ll just give it to Lumpy’s.’ Everything is given to them, and people can write off donations to the Lumpy’s Foundation.”

The Ninth Annual Concert for Autism will take place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Tack Room Tavern, 81900 Avenue 51, in Indio. A $5 donation at the door is suggested. For more information, visit concertforautism.com.

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